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History: MTCM and the first Gulf War: Aug. 7, 2010 was the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Shield. Operation Desert Storm followed Desert Shield with a sustained 39-day bombing campaign and a stunningly successful four-day ground assault that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait. These events enhanced Military Traffic Management Command's reputation and shaped its changing role in the 1990s.

Desert Shield/Desert Storm unfolded as a logistics triumph as well as a major military victory. The United States buildup of 533,000 troops in the Persian Gulf happened in tandem with the sustained movement of mountains of supplies, armor, weapons, and ammunition. The Center of Military History's 1995 overview of The Whirlwind War pointed out that MTMC, the Army Component Command of United States Transportation Command since 1988, "played a major role from the beginning of mobilization." While certainly true, that statement by itself minimized the pressured and difficult way that MTMC's role unfolded.

The deployment process for the 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky., took shape despite a 20-day delay in mobilizing key Reserve port operations units, because many reservists showed up early at Jacksonville, Fla., as volunteers without military orders. By Aug. 13, MTMC Eastern Area received official permission to accept and move forward with the volunteers who already had started work, two weeks before the official reserve call-up. The ad hoc team at Jacksonville (most of whose members were from the same unit) directed the loading of 10 ships to move the equipment of the 101st Airborne Division.

As MTMC's commander Maj. Gen. John R. Piatak recalled in an Aug. 1991 interview, "We had moved the 101st out of Jacksonville before. We knew that Jacksonville had a capability to handle helicopters in easy fashion ... The question was not to develop a strategy, but how quickly can you execute those things we know should happen."

A 30-person ad hoc MTMC "scratch" team arrived at Savannah Aug. 3, the day after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The team leased facilities at the port along with berth space. On Aug. 11, two fast sealift ships, the USNS Capella and USNS Altair arrived at Savannah. Aided by the Army Reserve's 1185th Transportation Terminal Unit, the scratch team loaded both ships around-the-clock so they were able to sail for Saudi Arabia on Aug. 13 and 14. By Aug. 31, both ships had completed their offloading at Ad Dammen, Saudi Arabia. Initially, the 1185th loaded nine ships in nine days despite intense seasonal heat and thunderstorms. Overall, MTCM loaded 12 ships with 254,930 measurement tons at Savannah in August, with a remarkably low average loading time of 35.8 hours per ship.

This extraordinary achievement came despite major adjustments and additional issues. Since the "worst case scenario" of an imminent Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia was very plausible and might have compelled the 24th Infantry Division to fight the Iraqis at Saudi ports, the Army asked MTMC to "combat load" the 24th's major equipment with tanks and vehicles driven onto the vessels with full fuel tanks and ammunition racks. Air defense artillery was put on the top deck of the first two ships leaving Savannah in anticipation of possible attacks. Combat loading and the unit's extra supplies increased the number of ships used.

MTMC's success in managing the loading of 103 ships (which delivered 520,000 measurement tons) in the first 59 days of Desert Shield included the most obvious military cargo, ammunition. Personnel at Military Ocean Terminal, Sunny Point (MOTSU), N.C., loaded nine ships with 102,809 measurement tons of ammunition during Phase I of Desert Shield. As elsewhere, MTMC officials at MOTSU faced real challenges. MOTSU needed more people to sustain the contingency mission. HQ MTMC added more than 100 civilians to augment rail and stevedore operations. The 1185th Terminal Transportation Unit sent a contingent to North Carolina once operations at Savannah concluded. They joined a flow of Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) reservists that started on 20 Aug. Many civilians voluntarily took on additional duties beyond their normal roles.

Extra work in a mobilization situation is not surprising, but two other changes had not been anticipated. While the facility had been designed to rely on railroad shipments, most ammunition reached MOTSU by truck rather than by rail. Just as surprising, the increased flow of ammunition more and more came on pallets rather than in containers, once again contrary to the facility design. Since truckloads of palletized ammunition could not be loaded as efficiently as containers, a backlog of ammunition pallets grew.

"We certainly should have containerized more ammunition," admitted Gen. Hansford T. Johnson, USAF, commander, United States Transportation Command, September 1989-Aug. 1992. "We simply did not push hard enough for it."

During Phase II of Operation Desert Shield (Nov. 20, 1990-Jan. 15, 1991) another 30 ships with 383,335 measurement tons of ammunition deployed from MOTSU. MTMC Europe deployed 200,000 measurement tons of ammunition to Saudi Arabia during this period. Once the ammunition deployment was complete, a large sustainment effort followed. At the official start of the redeployment from Desert Storm on March 10, 1991, 55 ships with 418,000 short tons of ammunition were en route to Southwest Asia.

The other highlight of Desert Shield Phase II for MTMC Europe, the movement of 122,000 troops and 50,000 pieces of equipment from Germany to Saudi Arabia in seven weeks compelled several adjustments. Four mobilized MTMC Transportation Terminal Units deployed to Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Once the move began, MTMC had to use five additional European ports in addition to its standard ports of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Bremerhaven, Germany and Livorno, Italy. When 407 trainloads and 12,200 railcars of Army equipment congested Northern European railways, MTMC managed 421 barge loads to help relieve the pressure. Another alternative maneuver led MTMC to stage 204 road convoys that moved 5,100 vehicles. While finding alternative ways to move, MTMC Europe managed to work effectively with the Army's 7th Corps, as well as with Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium to make sure that the equipment and supplies reached the ports on time.


One part of the deployment from Europe was disappointing. Piatak said units deploying from Europe "stuffed hundreds and hundreds of containers, put no markings on them, offered them to us, we shipped on over there and they got them there. However, they didn't know what was in what. So the [7th] Corps was inundated with containers they had no visibility over."

Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf, commander, U.S. Central Command, described the buildup as "an absolutely gigantic accomplishment" and stated, "I can't give credit enough to the logisticians and transporters who were able to pull this off."

The formal award of the Army Superior Unit Award to MTMC Feb. 8, 1992 led Susan B. Livingston, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Logistics, and Environment to praise "MTMC's unprecedented efforts associated with terminal operations, rail and truck movements, plus behind-the-scenes coordination with industry and government agencies."

Desert Shield/Desert Storm brought MTMC into a closer relationship with USTRANSCOM and USCENTCOM as it won an expanded role in the operational theater that remained important throughout the 1990s and dominated the first decade of the 21st century. General Piatak worked in harmony with USTRANSCOM and Military Sealift Command. He also used U.S. Central Command's stated movement priorities (which USTRANSCOM obtained and provided) to force lower priority DOD customers to wait.

Desert Shield involved MTMC in furious port operations often in commercial ports like Jacksonville and Beaumont that later became the home stations of SDDC battalions. Likewise, Eastern Area was seen as providing outstanding support of deploying units. Eastern Area commander Brig. Gen. Hubert G. Smith won praise for his active customer support and became deputy commander of USTRANSCOM in 1995.

MTMC reaffirmed its commitment to MOTSU after Desert Shield/Storm and also fashioned a long-term commitment to develop the terminal at Concord, Calif., as the West Coast equivalent of Sunny Point.

Many shortcomings of Desert Shield and Desert Storm such as limited containerization, a need to upgrade the sealift fleet, faulty cargo documentation, and inadequate in-transit visibility (ITV) received sustained attention in the following years. Desert Shield and Desert Storm showed MTMC excelling at port management despite problems and propelled the command forward through lessons learned and shaping future operations.

MTMC and Desert Shield/Storm

Operated out of 50 ports

23 United States

27 foreign

Loaded 6.5 million measurement tons on 537 ships (between Aug 7. 1990 -March 10, 1991)

MTMC's Eastern Area redeployed 3.8 million measurement tons from 282 ships at 14 ports

By Dr. Kent Beck, SDDC Command Historian
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Author:Beck, Kent
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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